A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to share a booth at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago! The weekend was stupendously cold and surprisingly full of motorcycles (not AT the fair... just between us and the fair...) but totally awesome!
(Us and other vendors setting up in just one of the rooms.)
We could tell almost at once that, for many of the vendors, this is was they did for a living. Their booths were beautifully cohesive- with background curtains and large logos. Our booth.. in contrast... looked more like all three of our studios all exploded enthusiasm:
(Too much stuff? Never!)
It was funny, actually, 'cause it ended up being kind of hard to see us sitting behind that mountain of brightly colored objects. So we had to position ourselves so that we could see customers and then JUMP OUT! at them and try to convince them to buy things.
(photo stolen from the Renegade Flkr of the event!)
The fair was held at the Pulaski Field House... somewhere near Wicker Park. The space was great! There were five HUGE rooms, spread out over two floors, full of vendors. It was actually kind of overwhelming. So much of the stuff was really expensive (which didn't stop me from coming home with some choice purchases.) But it was really awesome to see so many people hand-making and selling their wares for the holidays... and even more awesome to see people shopping for them!
We estimated that over a thousand people walked by our table! (Of that thousand.. somewhere around 200 picked up this one orange wallet I made without buying it. Lame! But hilarious.) Every room was packed! It was awesome.
And, of course, hanging out with friends made the weekend all the more better!
As a first craft fair experience, I'm glad I got to participate in one as monumental, and as established, as Renegade. There has been a lot of conversation over the past few years about the nature of the so-called Handmade Nation and it's place in the DIY movement. One of the main goals of these movements is to connect individual artists to buyers while at the same time endowing everyone with the permission that is often deemed necessary for making. It is about the power of the individual and the momentum that is made possible through community. And I was really looking forward to experiencing some of that at Renegade. But I have to admit that I'm not sure I really did.
Perhaps it is the pervasive nature of professional branding (in the style of corporatization) or perhaps it is the competitive nature of sales events but I noticed that, especially on the first day, there seemed to be an unspoken agreement between the vendors to not interact. (Except for the six year old daughter of a vendor in our room who adopted us immediately. She sparkled, we sparkled... it seemed like a good match.) It really wasn't until a few hours before packing up our wares that we even started to interact with the vendors in our immediate vicinity. Ok ok, I guess I can't place all the blame for this separation outside myself; I had as much agency to strike up conversations with other artists as they did with me... but there was this sense that, as professionals, there was a strict customer/vendor relationship that was to be adhered to. And there was no getting around the intense sales mentality. I found myself slipping easily back into the sell-sell-sell mindset as I talked to customers, which is something I have intentionally abandoned since working retail. I very much prefer to use my making as a tool for building connections: sewing needed objects for friends and if possible, trading them for it instead of asking for money. Now, I know Mr. Obama would call me a "rabble rousing anti-capitalist" for such behavior... and most of my friends would point out that I actually love making money and selling stuff but... I don't know. It's just something I think about kind of a lot.
So... in conclusion... although I had a total blast at the craft fair, I don't think I'll be doing another one in the near future. (Unless Lucy and Nellie ask me to 'cause I just can't say no to those ladies.) Instead, I'd rather be part of the conversation: what is the role of the handmade object? What is the role of the hand-making? What does this say and how can we use this momentum to bring people together? Mmm... sounds like a good craft night convo to me.
*** Oh! And on a related note! I have a ton of leftover merch that will be for sale on my etsy after the holidays! I wanted to get them up there in time for Christmas but seeing as I leave for MA tomorrow that doesn't look too possible. But come January I promise riches of make-up bags, belt bags, wallets, and post-cards galore!